If you have a pond or are thinking about building a pond, one of the key features to consider is the plant life that will become part of your aquatic ecosystem. But did you know that while plants can add a wonderful aesthetic appeal, they also play a vital role in the lifecycle of your pond? In fact, different types of plants play different roles.
One type is floating plants, and their role is to trap pond sediment and to draw excess nutrients out of the water through their roots. They also provide a habitat for a number of pond critters, including shelter for young fish or homes for some welcome insects like dragonflies. Floating plants can also help reduce water loss through evaporation and reduce excessive algae growth if your pond is located in a particularly sunny spot.
Another type includes submerged plants and their job is to add oxygen to the water and reduce algae. Their roots also help to filter nitrates and fish waste, keeping your pond ecosystem clean, clear and healthy. And they make great hiding places for fish to help protect them from predators.
Marginals are plants that grow best in shallow water or around the edges of ponds and also play a role in shading the pond and absorbing excess nutrients to improve water quality. They also provide the added aesthetic bonus of smoothing transitions between the land and water’s edge, creating a pleasing landscape.
So now that you know the role of plants in a pond, what are the best plants for yours?
The best way to ensure a healthy ecosystem is to consult with an experienced pond and landscape professional who can advise you based on the conditions of your land, the placement of the pond and other factors. Generally, you’ll need a variety of underwater plants plus 40-60% surface coverage with floating plants.
Then there’s your geography. Certain plants thrive better in some climates than in others. Here in the northeast, and in New Jersey specifically, we’re in what’s referred to on climate maps as Zones 6 and 7, with a bit of Zone 5 at the northernmost tip of the state. Climate maps provide a guide to help determine the hardiest plants for a given area so your plant choices can be made wisely.
Now that you’ve got a bit of insight into why and how to choose plants, these are some of the best pond plants for our area.
Creeping Jenny is a marginal plant that is also used as ground cover in terrestrial gardens. And in case you’re wondering whether there is such a thing as an extra-terrestrial garden, the term is used to refer to land-based gardens as opposed to aquatic ones.
This low-lying plant has bright green leaves that make a visually stunning counterpart to the wet grays of pond rocks, creating smooth, seamless transitions between the land and water. It loves to nestle in the crevices between rocks and its trailing leaves will also cascade into the water, creating a pretty, lacy effect.
And they bloom tiny yellow flowers all summer long, making this a lovely aesthetic addition to your pond. It’s prolific, easy to grow and easy to manage.
These little charmers are part of the water lily family and reproduce prolifically across the surface of your pond. They may need trimming from time to time, but they’re wonderfully hardy, excellent shade plants and are a great choice for ponds that suffer from excessive algae.
There are three varieties: white, yellow and orange, each with a distinct appeal. The white snowflakes have green and maroon vegetation with tiny, yellow-centered white flowers. Both the yellow and orange varieties have frilly edges and bright green leaves.
But perhaps one of the most fun things about this plant is that you can easily pinch off new growth to share with friends!
Variegated Sweet Flag
This is one of the most popular aquatic plants, and for good reason. It’s not only a great accent piece for the edge of your pond but its striking color – variegated green and bright yellow stripes – makes a bold and dramatic impact on any pond landscape.
It adds texture as well as color and has the added bonus of looking great year-round.
Since it grows in dense clumps it’s also a good ally against weeds and even erosion.
No aquatic garden seems complete without the water lily. Not only is this one of the most popular but also one of the most recognizable plants, thanks to its incredibly beautiful flowers, which bloom in every color of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet and even white.
In fact, its stunning beauty is one of the reasons many people choose to add ponds to their landscapes in the first place!
Water lilies can be further subdivided into tropical and hardy varieties. Hardy varieties are just that – hardy, and able to withstand the harsher and colder climates in our area. They go dormant in winter and then come back in full blossom in spring.
Hardy water lilies bloom during the day and flowers can be red, pink, yellow and white, plus a fun “changeable” variety that starts out yellow then changes to reddish-yellow over the 3-5 day blooming period.
Tropical water lilies are much showier and are available in varieties that bloom both during the day and at night, but they cannot withstand New Jersey winters. Sometimes they are grown in colder climates as annuals and replaced in the new season.
This plant is popular because it’s so easy to care for and functions as an excellent surface plant, floating along and soaking up excess nutrients, shading the water and helping to prevent the growth of algae.
Its fuzzy green leaves resemble miniature floating heads of lettuce and provide a great hiding spot for fish.
Water lettuce also makes great compost, and you can even grab a bit to keep in an indoor container as the season begins to fade. While it doesn’t last all winter, it can serve as a cheerful reminder of your pond for a little while as the cold weather sets in.
One of our favorite kinds of gardens is one that not only looks great but also attracts local wildlife, like birds and butterflies. And the cardinal flower is a beautiful marginal plant with bright red flowers that can be used to attract birds, especially the tiny hummingbird, which is drawn to the vivid red color.
These plants can grow as tall as three feet and bloom all through summer and sometimes fall, making them cheerful and striking additions to your landscape.
These are just a few of the most popular, useful and beautiful plants and flowers that you can use in your pond garden. If you’d like to learn more about aquatic plants or find out which ones can fit best within the outdoor living space of your dreams, let us know. One of our design professionals will be happy to create an outdoor space where you can enjoy color, texture, sound, movement and even the company of wildlife.